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ETHNONYMS: Dargi; self-designation: Darganti (sing., Dargan); collective term for the entire group: Dargwa


Identification. The Dargins are indigenous inhabitants of the Daghestan ASSR in the USSR. They have absorbed the Kaidaks (self-designations: Khaydaq', Khaydaq'lanti [sing., Khaydaq'lan]) and, to some degree, the Kubachins (self-designations: Urbug, Urbuganti [sing., Urbugan])

Location. The Dargins inhabit foothill, mountain, and alpine zones in central Daghestan from 42°40 to 41°50 N and 47°05 to 47°50 E. The districts (raions ) with primarily Dargi inhabitants are Akusha, Levashi, Dakhadai, Kaitag, and Seregokal. In Soviet times some of the Dargins moved to the lowlands (the Nogay, Khasav-yurt, and Kayakent districts).

Demography. In 1989 Dargins numbered 365,797, a 27.3 percent increase over the 1979 figure of 287,282. Of the total Dargi population, 280,431 (76.7 percent) lived in Daghestan (in 1979 the figure was 246,854 or 85.9 percent of the total). The population density was 38 people per square kilometer in 1985. The Dargins belong to the Balkan-Caucasian subtype of the European race.

Linguistic Affiliation. Dargi, together with the Kaitag and Kubachi languages, forms the Dargwa Subgroup of the Lak-Dargwa Group of the Daghestanian Branch of the Northeast Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) Language Family. The major dialects are Akushi, Tsudakhar, Urakhi (Khürkili), Sirkhi, Mekegi, Kaidak, Murzi, Gubden, Chirag, Kubachi, Kadar, and Megeb. A literary language based on the Akushi dialect has been established in Soviet times. Sixty-eight percent of the Dargins are fluent in Russian.

History and Cultural Relations

The Dargins are an indigenous people who have undergone the general economic, ethnic, and social processes that have affected Daghestan and the eastern Caucasus, as shown by archaeological finds in their territory dating from the Paleolithic through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Eneolithic periods up to medieval times. This evidence indicates social, economic, and cultural continuity with the northeastern Caucasian ethnic and cultural area (comprising speakers of the Nakh-Daghestanian languages) since the rise of early agriculture in the northeastern Caucasus. Cultural unity lasted until the third millennium b.c.; its breakup created the separate groups that formed the basis for the development, in the first millennium a.d., of the Daghestanian tribes, including the Dargins. The Dargi tribe arose in the coastal and foothill area north of Derbent as far as Makhachkala and including present Dargi territory. Toponymic evidence shows that the Dargins were the ancient inhabitants of the coastal and foothill area.

Like the other Daghestanian tribes, the Dargins were once part of Caucasian Albania and later came under Hunnic power and then that of the Khazar Khanate. Arab penetration of Daghestan began in the seventh century; the Dargins of Kaitag and Shandan were prominent in the resistance. Historical records of the sixth to seventh centuries (the writings of Balazuri, Ibn Rusta, Masudi, and others) contain the first written references to the Dargins, in mentions of "Kaitag" and "Zirekhgeran"; the latter name, which means "armor makers" in Persian, is identified with "Kubachi" ("armor makers" in Turkish) by all researchers. This was also the time when feudal relations began to develop among the Dargins; initially this involved unification of ethnic groups around a strong settlement or leader. In the twelfth to thirteenth centuries a major feudal center arose in Kaitag. In the eleventh to twelfth centuries Turkic tribes entered lowland Daghestan, continuing a process of displacement and Turkicization of the indigenous peoples. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries came the devastating invasions of the Mongols, in particular Tamerlane (Timur), who according to his chroniclers destroyed the indigenous infidels. During the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries Dargi territory, like all of Daghestan, became an arena for internal feudal wars as well as invasions by Turkey and Persia. These wars led to the downfall of Nadir Shah, in which the Dargins took part.

Russian-Daghestanian connections date from the sixteenth century, and Russian conquest of Daghestan began with the Persian campaign of Peter the Great. In 1813 the Gulistan Treaty made Daghestan, including Dargi territory, part of Russia. Although the Dargins were not in the imamate of Shamil, they participated in its struggle for independence. Suffering both social and colonial oppression, they frequently protested in speeches and joined rebellions. Particularly significant was the anticolonial rebellion of Daghestan in 1877, in which the Dargins were among the most active participants. They were among the first to enter the revolutionary struggle during the October Revolution and the civil war, and the mass uprising against Anton Ivanovich Denikin's white forces was initiated by the Dargins.

Language and Literacy. To judge from medieval archaeological evidence, use of Caucasian Albanian writing was widespread among the Dargins. It was replaced by Arabic writing when they converted to Islam. Attempts to adapt Arabic writing to the Daghestanian languages had begun by the fifteenth century, and in the eighteenth century ajam, a system of Daghestanian writing based on the Arabic script, had developed and was in fairly wide use. During Soviet times Dargi writing was reformed with a new system based on the Russian alphabet. A Dargi literary language evolved during the nineteenth century. Before the Revolution, education was organized around Arabic writing. All children received elementary education (in the mekteb ) involving basic literacy, the rules of religious services, and memorization of passages from the Quran. Boys received secondary education in the medresseh, learning catechism, Arabic grammar, logic, and Muslim law. Higher education was an individual matter, conducted under the guidance of clergymen who were respected teachers. The level of literacy in Arabic was high (over 10 percent), but this literacy had little practical social or cultural value since it had little to do with everyday life or the contemporary European culture. Few Dargins were literate in Russian because there were almost no Russian schools. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Dargi Okrug, with a population of over 80,000, had two schools with seventy-six students, most of them from the families of colonial administrators and the well-to-do ("Dargintsy" 1960, 483). In Soviet times, with the new writing system, illiteracy has been nearly eliminated and instruction in the schools is in Russian (with some study of the native language). The Dargi literary language is the vehicle of newspaper and magazine publishing, an original and translated artistic literature, and a Dargi theater. At last count, 97.5 percent of the Dargins and 98.9 percent of those living in Daghestan consider Dargi their native language. But the literary language is not in everyday use, which makes the development of a unified Dargi language problematic in the foreseeable future.


There were four stages in the evolution of Dargi settlements. In the first stage there were small settlements of kin groups, probably equivalent to a tukhum (see "Kin Groups and Descent"), as attested by archaeological and, in part, ethnographic evidence. In the second stage, between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, settlements grew to encompass several quarters, each occupied by a separate tukhum. In the third stage small, territorially based settlements formed for economic reasons and for defense of the neighboring lands. Such settlements are characterized by their inaccessibility, economy of land, closeness to sources of water, and orientation toward the sun. The buildings are vertical or terracelike, multistoried, and compactly arranged. These villages are of three typesaul, a sizable village; a hamlet; a few householdswith three corresponding kinds of social organization. Finally, the fourth stage is the modern Soviet kolkhoz or sovkhoz with modern governance, economy, and buildings and laid out with blocks and streets.

The oldest type of Dargi dwelling consisted of a single room with a hearth in the center. Further evolution involved additional stories, division of the room, and additional structures. The Dargi dwelling combined living and work quarters, but with functional divisions. The most common type in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a two-story or multistory stone building with a yard, buildings for livestock or farm implements beneath the living quarters, and a flat roof. In later stages, the yard and building were covered over with loggias, verandas, or balconies. The most common designs are those with a veranda (often shortened and made into living space; this type is common in the lowlands) and the two-row loggia type with a central corridor (the Kaitag-Sürgin type). In Soviet times the design and plan have been essentially the same, but houses are larger, with a number of rooms having different functions; there is a gabled slate or metal roof, a garden, and plantings.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Economic production based on agriculture and stock breeding developed in Daghestan (and hence in Dargi territory) in the Neolithic period (late seventh to sixth millennia). In the Eneolithic period (fifth to fourth millennia) one or the other became predominant, depending on local conditions stock breeding came to dominate (i.e., stock breeding was more suited to the high mountain regions); in the Bronze Age came growth in the agricultural and stock breeding economies, the rise of terrace agriculture, the wide use of the basic grains, orchards and vineyards, and the final stages of animal domestication. Agricultural economic growth, with intensification of terrace agriculture, continued in the mid-altitude mountain areas until the end of nomadic domination of the plains (i.e., until the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries) a.d.. With the end of nomadic pressure and the growth of productive power and exchange, economic specialization arose according to natural economic zones (sixteenth to nineteenth centuries). The lower foothills became the site of an economic-cultural area of settled plow agriculturalists and sedentary stockbreeders. The middle foothills were the locus of settled plow agriculture and (winter) pasture stock herding, an economy in which agriculture was important but not the main element. The high mountains were the zone of (summer) pasture herding and plow agriculture. There are a number of important differences between the lowland and highland economic-cultural areas: developed agriculture and irrigation are important in the lowlands but not in the highlands; large fields are the norm in the lowlands but small terraces and slopes are suitable to the highlands; the traditional metal plow is the standard instrument in the lowlands, whereas a more primitive one is in use in the highlands; transhumant agriculture without fertilizer is the practice in the lowlands, but a two-year fallow and crop-rotation system using fertilizer prevails in the highlands; wheat is the principal grain in the lowlands, but barley, rye, maize, and legumes predominate in the highlands; the scythe is preferred in the lowlands, the sickle in the highlands; most agricultural labor is done by men in the lowlands but by women in the highlands; trades and seasonal work are weakly developed in the lowlands, highly developed in the highlands; baked goods and ovens predominate in the lowlands, khinkal (see "Food") and griddles in the highlands; wheeled transport is used in the lowlands, pack and hand-carried transport in the highlands; unrestrained layout of settlements and dwellings predominates in the lowlands, whereas densely clustered multistory ensembles are the rule in the highlands; and so on.

Clothing. Traditional Dargi dress is of the Daghestanian type. Men's dress, which has general Caucasian features as well, consisted of a tuniclike shirt, straight pants, a short coat (with front lapped opening and no fastening), the cherkeska (Caucasian jacket), a sheepskin cloak, a felt overcoat, a sheepskin hat, a felt cap, a bashlïk (fabric headgear worn over the sheepskin hat), knitted socks and stockings, leather footwear (soft leather boots, some of them high with separate tops; hard-soled leather boots with heels), felt slippers, sheepskin boots, sabotlike low boots, and weapons (a dagger was always worn). Women's clothing included a tunic or a blouse with separately cut and set-in waist, pants (both straight-legged like men's and wide-legged), the arkhaluk (a robelike dress that opened in front), an overcoat or cloak, the chukhta (a scarf with a baglike place for the braids), a richly embroidered head covering, and a kerchief. There were many silver ornaments: forehead and temple pieces, earrings, necklaces, belt ornaments, ornaments for the hands, and sequins. Footgear was like men's but more varied and sometimes decorated: colored socks, ornamented soft leather boots, felt dress boots, etc. Contemporary Dargi dress is much like urban street clothing, but traditional dress can be seen worn by older people and during certain ceremonies.

Food. The traditional Dargi diet reflects ancient agricultural traditions and the central role of stock herding since the fifteenth century. The staples are grain, dairy products, meat, vegetables, fruits, greens, and berries. A basic dish is khinkal: dough casings (of various sizes and shapes) filled with meat, cheese or sour cream, lard, or drippings, seasoned with garlic and cooked, preferably in bouillon. Other favorite dishes are pies with various fillings (meat, cheese, cottage cheese, wild greens, eggs, nuts, squash, fowl, cooked grains or meal, dried apricots, onion, barberry, pepper, etc.). Bread is unleavened or yeasted, baked on a griddle or on the hearth; dough is pressed against the wall of an oven (tarum or tondïr ) to bake the flat bread that is common throughout the Caucasus and the Near East. The higher standard of living during Soviet times has made itself felt in the diet: the consumption of vegetables, canned and commercially prepared food, and Russian and European dishes (salads, borscht, cutlets, etc.) has increased.

Industrial Arts. Household crafts are well developed among the Dargins, especially in the highlands. The most developed are wool working (fabric, rugs, unnapped rugs, knitted objects), metalworking, woodworking, stoneworking, etc. Best known are the weapons, silverware, metal housewares, and jewelry of Kubachi; the agricultural implements and tools of Kharbuk; the blades of Amuzgi; the plain and glazed pottery of Sulerkent; the fabrics of Khajalmakhi; the stonecutting of Sutbuk and Kholaai (Uluai); the wooden implements and vessels of Kaitag; the leather of Tsudakhar, and the morocco and women's shoes of Gubden.

Division of Labor. Children were traditionally introduced to work early and encouraged to benefit from the experience and knowledge of older people. Age-based division of labor was never allowed to interrupt the gender-based division of labor. Men's work included plowing; sowing; irrigating; mowing; harvesting; care of orchards; work with livestock and harness; transport; care of livestock away from the home; pasturing of all livestock; gathering firewood; preparation of tools, weapons, and wooden and metal goods; and travel for trade, purchases, earnings, etc. Women's work included weeding and hoeing, care of livestock and poultry at home, gathering fallen fruit, preparation and preservation of food, spinning, weaving, knitting, making clothing, fetching water, housecleaning, laundry, etc. Both men and women participated in activities such as grinding, woodcutting, harvesting grain, and cutting and transporting hay (men used pack-animal transport; women carried hay on their backs).


Kin Groups and Descent. The predominant form of household among the Dargins is the nuclear family, but traces of extended-family organization survived until the early twentieth century in the form of undivided large families. A set of families made up a tukhum, a group of patrilineally related families tracing their descent to a common ancestor and having ideological, and social (but not economic) unity. The tukhum was sometimes divided into similar lower-level patronymies (zhins, ahlu ), which could grow into new tukhums. The tukhum was not exogamous, nor was it obligatorily endogamous.

Kinship Terminology. The Dargi kin system is of the Arabic type. The kin terms are father (tutesh ), son (ursi ), brother (utsi ), mother, daughter, sister, grandchild, grandfather, grandmother, maternal uncle, and paternal uncle, with several degrees of relatedness: sibling, first cousin (utsiq'ar ), second cousin, etc. Kinship within the tukhum traditionally extended to the twelfth generation along the father's line.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage was based on Sharia (Islamic law). Endogamous marriages within the tukhum, usually between patronymies, were common, but marriages between tukhums were not uncommon. The age of marriage was from 13 to 20 for women and 15 to 25 for men; the ideal ages were 17 and 25, respectively. Marriage was patrilocal. Divorce was based on Sharia and usually initiated by the husband's. The wife had the right to divorce in two cases: if the husband was physically incapacitated or if he was not in a position to support the family materially. The stages leading to marriage were matchmaking, agreement, betrothal, and arrival "in the other's house." The wedding ceremony (mahar ) was performed by a mullah or qadi; the groom and the bride's father (or, more often, delegates from both sides) participated. The bride's consent, given to her father in the presence of a witness, was obligatory. A marriage tax (kebin ) was imposed to guarantee the bride's security in the event of widowhood or divorce initiated by the husband. After the wedding the bride became part of the new household in several stages: she was brought into the family room of the husband's house; she fetched water at the village spring for the first time; she returned home; restrictions on contact with her in-laws lapsed.

Inheritance. In customary law (adat ) inheritance was only along the male line: women had no rights of inheritance. Under the influence of Sharia, women received the right to inherit half of a man's portion.

Socialization. The major concern in traditional child rearing was introducing the child, from a young age, to his or her future occupations, consistent with the gender-based division of labor: future warrior or future housewife and mother. Considerable attention was devoted to training the child in work habits, moral qualities, obedience, and respect for elders. There was no ritual initiation, although there were age trials (involving, for example, endurance of pain, and tests of self-control, courage, skill, etc.). Adulthood was marked for a young man by receiving a dagger to wear, for a young woman by putting on an element of clothing or an ornament from her grandmother that had been kept in a trunk for the occasion.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization . Fundamental to Dargi social organization was the village territorial collective (jamaat ). Unworked land was held communally; pastures, fields, and most hay fields were privately owned. Among some Dargins there were also feudal and waqf (i.e., Muslim ecclesiastical) properties. The territorial collectives formed unions of village societies: some were independent (or "free"; in Russian historiography of the nineteenth century they were often called "republics") and some dependent on feudal lords. Unions of societies would sometimes join in a larger union of unions, or macrounion. Most of the Dargins came under the Akushi macrounion headed by a qadi and consisting of the following unions of societies: Akusha, Tsudakhar, Mekegi, Usisha, Mugi, Urakhi, and sometimes Sirkha. The other Dargins were dependent to varying degrees on the feudal Kaitag utsmiate (Utsmi-Dargwa; the utsmi was a sort of feudal prince) and Tarkov Shamkhalate (Gubden, Kadar).

Political Organization. The functions of government, except those concerning unions, were held by village societies. The union of unions had primarily military and legal functions (i.e., those pertaining to the macrounion). For deciding major questions, particularly questions of war and peace, it had as its supreme organ an assembly of representatives (tsähnabäq ), which met near Akusha, on a plateau known as the "meeting plain." Between meetings of the assembly, macrounion government was carried out by a supreme council of the qadis of the unions and twelve to fifteen influential elders. The economic and political life of the settlement was regulated by adat, the stipulations of which were universally binding. The adat customs were codified; the best known codex is that of Rustem Khan, a Kaitag utsmi of the seventeenth century. Sharia also exerted some influence.

Social Control and Conflict. The heads of village government were the village qadis, who held full spiritual and supervisory secular powers. Village society was governed by an elder or elders (khalati ). Other elders supervised their actions. Below the elders were executive bodies (baruman ) headed by a crier (mangush ). The most important questions were decided by the tsähnabäq. Disputes were resolved through adat (with elders serving as judges) or Sharia (with a qadi as judge). The qadi had responsibility in matters of religion, family relations, inheritance, wills, and civic suits. Capital and civic matters were decided by adat. Appeals went to the qadi of the union or to the Akusha qadi. Disputes and conflicts of an interunion nature were also decided by the Akusha qadi and his council or, in extreme cases, by the union assembly.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Dargins are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi school. Islam took root among the Dargins in the fourteenth century and reached its peak in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, facilitated by nationalist movements that assumed a religious form. The Islam of the Dargins has a strongly syncretic nature, with a substantial heritage of pre-Islamic pagan beliefs given Muslim form. The agricultural calendar and ceremonies and household and family rites have retained many elements of paganism: practices for warding off evil and initial, imitative, and other forms of magic. They are reflected in the rite of the first furrow, the most important and ceremonially richest Dargi rite; in the spring New Year holiday, with its personification of winter and summer and their dispute in dialogue; in the rites for making and stopping rain, calling out the sun, completing the harvest, beginning springtime work in the vineyards, and pasturing cattle; and in the holiday of flowers, the thanksgiving for plowing, the sacred trees and groves, and so on.

Arts. Architecture was extremely well developed among the Dargins. The folk masters of this art displayed a very high level of achievement in building and ornamenting towers, fortresses, ensembles of buildings, mosques, bridges, constructions at springs and wells. The artistry of the Dargins is clearly shown in their decorative and applied art: in the world-renowned creations of the Kubachi silversmiths; in the work of stonecutters, toolmakers, woodworkers, and ceramic and tile workers; in weaving, leatherwork, and furwork; and in spirited folk dance and vocal music.

Medicine. Prior to Russia's annexation of Dargi regions, Dargi medicine was a combination of folk and Eastern medicine. Folk healers (khakim ) achieved considerable success in the treatment of wounds, bruises, broken bones, and dislocations and even in trephination; they were also skilled in phytotherapy and treatment of various internal diseases. The best-known healers were Murtuzali Haji of Butri, who studied medicine in Cairo for five years, worked with the Russian surgeon N. I. Pirogov, and was given a set of surgical instruments by him; Taimaz of Urakhi; Mohammed Haji of Khajalmakhi; Davud Haji of Akusha'; Alisultan Haji of Urkarakh; and others. Medical service was instituted only in 1894, with nine doctors and twelve nurses for all of Daghestan, a ratio of one medical practitioner to 60,000 persons. Now there is a paramedical station in every settled place, or a regional doctor, or a regional, district, or interdistrict hospital and a first-aid service with its own transport, including air transport.

Death and Afterlife. The Dargins see death as predetermined by faith. They believe in an afterlife, a judgment day, the bridge Sirat, heaven and hell, etc. Funerals follow the Muslim rite, with prayers for the deceased, generous funeral feasts, and memorials on the fortieth or fifty-second day.

See also Kubachins


Akiner, Shirin (1986). Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union: An Historical and Statistical Handbook. 2nd ed., 220-225. London: KPI.

Aliev, V. G. (1972). Kaba-Dargo v XVIII-XIX vv (Kaba-Dargo in the 18th-19th centuries). Makhachkala.

Amirov, G.-M. (1873). "Sredi gortsev Severnogo Dagestana" (Among the mountaineers of North Daghestan). Sbornik Svedenii o Kavkazskikh Gortsakh (Tbilisi) 7.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush (1986). Muslims of the Soviet Empire: A Guide, 213-216. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

"Dargintsy" (1960). In Narody Kavkaza (Peoples of the Caucasus), edited by M. O. Kosven et al. Vol. 1. Moscow: Akademiia Nauk.

Gadzhieva, S. Sh., M. O. Osmanov, and A. G. Pashaeva (1967). Material'naia kul'tura dargintsev (The material culture of the Dargins). Makhachkala: Dagestanski i Filial An USSR, In-t Istorii, Iazyka i Litry.

Vil'er de Lil' Adam, V. (1875). "Dve nedeli v Darginskom okruge" (Two weeks in Dargi okrug). Sbornik Svedenii o Kavkazskikh Gortsakh (Tbilisi) 8.

M. OSMANOV (Translated by Johanna Nichols)


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The Dargins (or Dargwa) are an ethnic group in the Republic of Dagestan in the Russian Federation. At the 1989 Soviet Census they numbered 280,431, or 15.8 percent of the republic. In the USSR as a whole there were 365,038 Dargins, of whom over 97 percent considered Dargin to be their native tongue. Of that same number 68 percent claimed fluency in Russian as a second language. This would include a significant majority of the adults. The Dargins are situated in the area of Kizlyar, where one of the branches of the Dagestani State University is found.

The Dargin language is a member of the Lak-Dargwa group of the Northeast Caucasian family of languages. In Soviet times it would also have been included in the larger category of Ibero-Caucasian languages. This grouping owed as much to the politics of druzhba narodov (the Soviet policy of Friendship of the Peoples) as it did to the reality of linguistic relation in this diverse collection of languages found in the Caucasus region. Following the general pattern of many of the non-Slavic languages of the Soviet Union, Dargin has had a modified Cyrillic alphabet since 1937. A Latin alphabet was utilized from 1926 to 1937 and before that Dargin was written in an Arabic script.

A modest number of books was published in Dargin during the Soviet period. From 1984 to 1985, for example, a total of fifty-one titles appeared. This compares favorably with other ethnic groups of its size, but without an ethnic jurisdiction of its own. A people such as the Abkhaz, with less than a third of the population of the Dargins, had 149 titles published in the same two-year period.

The Dargins have competed with other local nationalities for position within the diverse Dagestan Republic as ethnic politics are manipulated along with religious identity. The Dargins have traditionally been Sunni Muslims, with the strong influence of Sufism characteristic in the Caucasus region.

See also: caucasus; dagestan; islam; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist


Karny, Yo'av. (2000). Highlanders: A Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Paul Crego